I'm a shy person in his first job. There are two things that I can't deal with very well: the first is talking to a large groups of people, the second is talking to some of my managers.

Two examples:

  • During my hiring process, I was interviewed by my boss and a woman. This woman asked me a few questions. The interview was going fine, until she asked me something that threw me off completely; I just stared at her and say "I honestly don't know". She stared back at me and said nothing.

    To this day (almost a year later) I can't shake off my head the feeling that she doesn't like me. During elevator rides we almost never talk. I can't explain how I dread riding the elevator with her. And to cap it all, in my last performance review I got word from my boss that she thought that I could improve my communication skills (did I say I'm shy?).

  • I admire one of my managers, so naturally I get very nervous when talking to him, even about trivial matters. It saddens me how he can communicate so well, while I struggle to keep up. Which is really inconvenient seeing that I can learn so much from him. At the same time, I'm not far from graduating to my college degree, so I feel like I need to prove to him that I'm not dumb. It's so bad that I can't stand it when he walks next to my desk, as sometimes I am reading stuff online that I bet if he saw it he'd think shouldn't he know this by now?

I should probably also say that there's been a layoff recently, which didn't affect me, so I feel the pressure is double.

To sum up: how can I overcome my shyness around my managers?

  • A lot of people say overcome shyness like it's a disease or something, but as I shy person myself I say try to own the shyness. It just means you have the a preference/ability to communicate in a more quiet manner rather than loud and aggressive. In general I like to try and get the other person talking, sometimes actually that's what they prefer and then just save your big talks until you have something big to say. – Brandin Aug 1 '14 at 5:41
  • I can't tell from your question how closely you have to work with the woman you think dislikes you; are you sharing the elevator because you have to go somewhere with her? If not, is it possible to use stairs instead? (This may be seen as avoidant behavior so I would consider this option carefully.) – Alpar Aug 1 '14 at 7:31
  • @JimG. I don't think this is a dupe, unless you think shyness is a "social anxiety disorder". I'm no expert but I think this would have to be much more severe to the point that you can't communicate at all before it's a "disorder". – Brandin Aug 1 '14 at 11:07
  • There are specific interview questions intended to "throw you off" or make you "think on your feet" - you failed that one, and might want to look into getting some practice or familiarity with those. – user2813274 Aug 1 '14 at 21:06
  • This question is nearly identical - workplace.stackexchange.com/q/2799/2322 – enderland Aug 2 '14 at 12:41

In my first job out of school I was so shy around my boss (who was one of those never give any feedback positive or negative types) that I made an idiot of myself every time I saw him by falling off my desk chair, running into the wall, etc. So I know how you feel. I could not look anyone in the face for years due to shyness and other issues that I prefer not to discuss. This impacted my early career negatively until I got a boss who flat out told me I had to improve or I would stay junior my whole life. He believed that I was smart and capable but at work you need to be more than that. You need to be able to deal effectively with other people. And you need to believe in yourself.

The solution is in you. You say that you are shy, fine, learn how not to be shy. Being shy is an excuse. It is limiting your life. You have to learn to be assertive to succeed whether it is easy for you or not. It certainly wasn't easy for me and it took years to accomplish. I am a natural introvert, but my current coworkers would not suspect that now. I am sure they would not recognize that timid girl who ran into walls trying to avoid her boss.

Now the hard part is how to do that. There are classes on assertiveness training. There are organizations like Toastmasters that help you learn to speak publicly (and once you can address a group, talking to individuals becomes much easier for the most part.) There are books on assertiveness training and books on how to use language more effectively (http://www.amazon.com/The-Gentle-Art-Verbal-Self-Defense/dp/0880290307/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406917413&sr=8-1&keywords=suzette+elgin+hayden). Read them. Practice the techniques they teach.

Make goals for yourself. Write out and memorize a script for talking to the lady in the elevator. Practice it until you feel comfortable with it and then one day when you are ready, say "Hello, Jane. How is the XYZ department doing today?" or whatever your script says. What is the worst that can happen? Is it worse than running into the wall like I used to do?

The more you make specific goals to talk to people and the more you actually accomplish the goals, the more confortable you will get doing it. Start small. Have a goal that you will smile and say hello to 2 people in the hallway. When you have a meeting planned, write out one point you want to make in the meeting and then make it. Work up to the lady in the elevator if you must.

Video tape yourself pretending to speak up at a meeting or give a work presentation. Spend a whole day at this. Videotape, review the tape to decide what to change, try again with the thing you decided to change and video again and keep this up until whatever you are doing starts to feel more comfortable. Exaggerate in the opposite direction (this works in learning just about any new skill). If you talk too softly, resolve to shout in one of your practices (it is likely to come out at the right volume then!) If you hold yourself in a tight box, practice making overly expansive gestures. Because it is just you and the camera, no one else will see what you do and how silly it looks when you exaggerate, but the exaggeration will help you relax and move and speak more normally rather than timidly in the next practice run. It is hard, hard, hard to watch these tapes (trust me I know!), but after you start to see improvements you will realize how much it helps. Dedicate a whole weekend to it if you can. Or do short sessions for several weekends in a row. Do not expect it to get better instntly.

Pick someone else who communicates well and pretend to be that person when you decide how to respond to something. This is acting but acting skills are handy in teaching you the skills you didn't learn becasue you were "shy", Once you master them, you can much more easily learn to relax in communicating with people. Acting classes or trying out for the local theater group can help too.

And remember there are many more ways to communicate at work than through in-person conversations. You need to up your game on email and IM or whateever other forms your office uses to keep people in touch. Perhaps the complaint of not communicating enough means you don't tell people when there are delays or you don't answer questions in emails soon enough or you don't talk up in meetings. These things are all probably more important than talking to people in elevators. Think about what you can do to communicate more effectively in all modes of communication.

One thing that can help tremendously is to find a behavoral Psychologist. This person will give you technicques to help you learn to interact more with other people. It can be difficult to get started and having someone who gives you specific things to do and then expects you to report on your progress in doing them can be helpful.

Remember being shy is an excuse. It is just an obstacle to overcome; it is not a wall preventing action. Sure it makes it more difficult to learn to communicate well, it doesn't make it impossible.

You can do this. It is hard work but it is possible. Believe in yourself. You can do this.

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And to cap it all, in my last performance review I got word from my boss that she thought that I could improve my communication skills (did I say I'm shy?).

Are you wanting to claim that because you are shy, you don't have to have the same level of communication skills as others? If so, I'd highly suggest asking doctors for formal diagnosis of conditions that are protected as well as enlisting the help of agencies to nip this in the bud if you want to claim that because you are shy this implies your communication skills are the best they could ever be. Otherwise, be prepared to do some work to overcome the limitations you have as more than a few people may do a great deal of work to improve their communication skills.

Edit: The reason for getting the diagnosis is that if one is going to invoke "The Americans with Disabilities Act"(Or whatever your local equivalent would be) to claim that, "Hey, this is a disability! You can't expect me to do all this social stuff in my job!" then the doctor's diagnosis is the first step as chances are an employer would want to see proof that someone does have a protected condition. Otherwise, one could just tell the employer,"I have agoraphobia real bad and stay home 24/7, so I'm not making any meetings," or something else that while some people may have these conditions and struggle, others could abuse the system here. Understand that anyone going down this road is opening a Pandora's box as employers may have hesitation about how to handle someone that could be quite different. For example, if someone was a high functioning Autistic, there may be allowances made for that person that wouldn't the case for someone without that condition. I'm wondering how bad is the condition: Is it serious enough that various doctors would go through the paperwork and agencies would get the employer to back off here or is it not quite that bad?

how can I overcome my shyness around my managers?

Have you considered joining groups like Toastmasters or other groups that may give you a chance to practice your socialization skills and get used to small talk and having conversations with others? Meetup may also have groups that can be useful for building up social skills. Some people may review things from time to time or do 101 other things that I wouldn't be too concerned what others think but rather what is written in reports that you could work to improve and take proactive steps to be a better employee than you are.

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  • 1
    I'd highly suggest asking doctors for formal diagnosis of conditions that are protected as well as enlisting the help of agencies I'm new to this forum but seriously what is with the comments about getting doctors to classify this as disorder. If Alice is quieter than Bob then of course she is "shy" in comparison but it's not a problem until it's like so bad that you can't even communicate the required things. – Brandin Aug 1 '14 at 11:11
  • @Brandin, do you know how serious the OP's shyness is? It could be severe enough to be a disability which has a different route that one could go compared to just having to overcome a less severe problem. Maybe it is so bad that the required things aren't communicated well every single time? – JB King Aug 1 '14 at 17:16
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    It's evidently not that severe because he interviewed and passed and even gained enough respect from both ppl he interviewed with. I'm not an expert but it's so easy to claim that you have a problem when really you probably just need to man up or woman up and earn a little confidence. – Brandin Aug 1 '14 at 19:16

And to cap it all, in my last performance review I got word from my boss that she thought that I could improve my communication skills (did I say I'm shy?).

Those aren't the words of someone that doesn't like you. Rather, they are the words of someone that thinks enough of you to suggest a path of improvement. This is a good thing.

When you pass this person in the hall or see them in the elevator, smile and say hello. Make small talk: "How's your day going?" and "What did you think about the memo on x?" are good starters. You have maybe 45 seconds in an elevator, which means it'll be over fast. Do that often enough and you'll become a bit more comfortable.

It's so bad I can't stand it when he walks next to my desk, as sometimes I am reading stuff online that I bet if he saw it he'd think shouldn't he know this by now?

I've been in development for over 20 years. Yesterday I googled how to break out of a for() statement in a language I've used almost daily for at least the past 10 years. Believe me when I say that I'd never think twice about what an employee had up in their browser ... unless it was porn. I'd wager your boss has likely forgotten all sorts of things that you'd be surprised about.

I think the biggest issue you have is self confidence: Stop worrying about what you think others are thinking about you. There's no point.

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How long have you been working there? If you joined recently, then rest assured that you will relax as you settle into the job and get to know them (and vice versa).

Managers are people. When you aren't dealing with an issue that requires they function specifically as managers, treat them simply as senior co-workers.

Elevator etiquette varies from place to place and person to person. Not everyone wants conversation. I'd suggest you smile, say "hi", and then not bother trying to engage them unless you have something specific to ask or they responds with something that encourages further conversation (or at least further social noise). Silence or preoccupation doesn't mean they dislike you, it just means they're thinking about something else.

They know you aren't dumb, or they wouldn't have hired you. You're a newbie, you're relatively ignorant. That's fine; ignorance cures itself over time, especially after you relax enough to admit there are things you don't know and ask your co-workers. (Heck, I've been working in my field for 3 decades and I'm still learning new things most days, or relearning older ones I've forgotten.)

Again: Stop stressing about this. You're making mountains out of molehills that may not even be there.

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